BELGRADE (Reuters) - Montenegro beat Norway 34-31 after double overtime in a captivating women’s European handball championship final on Sunday to gain sweet revenge for their defeat by the Scandinavians in the Olympic showpiece.
The match put the icing on the cake of a fiercely competitive 16-team tournament and capped an extraordinary final day which started with Hungary winning the bronze medal after an equally thrilling 41-38 overtime victory over hosts Serbia.
Norway, who are also the world champions, were aiming for their fifth successive European title but were undone by a spirited Montenegrin team, whose 22-year old playmaker Milena Knezevic was their top scorer with 10 goals while Katarina Bulatovic added eight.
The Norwegians, supported by 3,000 colourful fans sporting drums and cowbells, twice came back from the brink of defeat before three unanswered goals in a frantic finale handed Montenegro their first international handball title.
It came on the back of their biggest club success in the sport earlier this year when the Balkan country’s top club Buducnost Podgorica, the nucleus of the national team, won the women’s Champions League title.
“Winning this gold medal was a long-term project and we reaped the rewards of hard work and patient building,” coach Dragan Adzic, who is also in charge of Buducnost, told reporters.
“The girls showed tremendous willpower and character and it took a monumental effort to overpower a team like Norway, who have more depth in their squad and a wealth of experience in games like this.”
Bulatovic, the tournament’s top scorer with 56 goals, added: ”I wondered when I started playing handball what it would be like to stand on the podium with the trophy in my hands and now I know that it’s the best feeling in the world.
“I salute our fans who came here in such big numbers to support us and this is their success too.”
Serbia, who will also host next year’s world championship, broke into tears after coming agonisingly close to winning their first medal as an independent nation.
Following the 27-26 semi-final defeat by neighbours Montenegro, they led against Hungary 37-36 midway through overtime in the third-place match but then ran out of steam as their rivals scored five unanswered goals.
Editing by Mark Meadows; email@example.com; +44 20 7542 7933; Reuters Messaging:; firstname.lastname@example.org